Thursday, May 12, 2011

Recent Reads

*The Love of My Youth by Mary Gordon is part literary novel, part travelogue and partially a review of “roads not taken.” Miranda and Adam were young lovers but haven’t seen each other in 30 years. Their heady reunion takes place in Rome, a city of myths and ghosts Adam knows well. Miranda is there for an environmental health conference. Their intense conversations are psychologically intricate and complexly metaphysical and aesthetic that they seem a bit theatrical. We learn that their blissful love bloomed when they were 16 and slowly withered during their twenties as Adam devoted himself to becoming a great pianist and Miranda searched for a way to help make the world a better place. The more they talk on their Roman rambles, the more the reader wonders what finally drove them apart—and why their spouses don’t worry about their extended togetherness.

*The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein is about Enzo, a rescue lab terrier mix, adopted by race car driver Denny Swift. Enzo is a new age philosopher who hopes to be reincarnated as a person after watching Denny meet and marry Eve, have a daughter, Zoë, and risk his savings and his life to make it on the professional racing circuit. Enzo, frustrated by his inability to speak and his lack of opposable thumbs, watches Denny's old racing videos, coins koanlike aphorisms that apply to both driving and life. When Denny hits an extended rough patch, Enzo is a “reliable companion and a likable enough narrator, though the string of Denny's bad luck stories strains believability.”

*The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly is the fourth legal thriller featuring Mickey Haller the LA L.A. lawyer who uses his Lincoln town car as an office. A foreclosure client, Lisa Trammel, may be fighting too hard to keep her home and becomes the prime suspect when a mortgage banker, is killed. Strong circumstantial evidence points to Trammel, but Haller crafts an impressive defense that concludes with "the fifth witness." “Connelly has a sure command of the legal and procedural details of criminal court, and even manages to make the arcane, shady world of foreclosure interesting.” The novel is timely because of its description of shady mortgage lending/foreclosure practices and because its publication coincides with the release of the movie, “The Lincoln Lawyer."

Ape House by Sara Guren is a disappointing follow-up to her wonderful Water for Elephants. This clumsy outing begins with the bombing of a university research center dedicated to the study of how bonobo apes communicate. The blast occurs one day after reporter John Thigpen visits the lab and is entranced with the bonobos. After a series of personal setbacks, Thigpen pursues the story of the apes and subsequent explosions for a Los Angeles tabloid. “Unfortunately, the best characters in this overwrought novel don't have the power of speech.”

**Room by Emma Donoghue's is about, Jack, a typical 5-year-old who likes to read books, watch TV, and play games with his Ma—but he has lived his entire life in an 11 x 11 room, sharing the tiny space with only his mother and a nighttime visitor known as Old Nick. For Jack, Room is the real world, but for Ma, it is a prison in which she has tried to create a normal life for her son. When they achieve the dream of experiencing “Outside,” the consequences are frightening. “Room is rife with moments of hope and beauty, and the dogged determination to live.” An amazingly original novel of survival, discovery and growth—an extended view of moving outside the comfort zone of “Plato’s Cave.”

The Incredible Mrs. Chadwick: the Most Notorious Woman of Her Age
by John S. Crosbie is a blend of fact and fiction about the career of a woman who became fabulously wealthy by borrowing huge sums of money, backed by forged bonds and a story about being the illegitimate daughter of Andrew Carnegie. Crosbie does a creditable job of research, fills in the blanks with reasonable assumptions and is a competent writer. The book, however, is less exciting than the story deserves.

*The Physics of the Impossible
by Micho Kaku introduces complex theories of physics to general readers. His knowledge of Physics is matched by his knowledge of science fiction and his references to pop culture—Star Trek to Terminator 3—that engage the reader and help make the frontier of physics almost engaging. Kaku suggests that time travel, teleportation, alternative universes don’t violate known laws of physics and could be achieved in the next century. He also “investigates the moral issues of futuristic technology…and asks provoking questions about the fate of humankind.”

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